A hearty, creamy bowl of soup makes a great cold weather meal. This mix--made entirely of freeze-dried and powdered ingredients--promised to be a "rich fall harvest blend of squash, apple and pumpkin with a touch of brown sugar." Could it pack any real vegetable flavor without any fresh vegetables?
Over the years I've been writing this column, I've reviewed many Crate & Barrel mixes, and enjoyed most of them. Perhaps the biggest exception was their Pumpkin Chowder mix, which I reviewed in 2009 and found underwhelming: "The instructions said to season the soup to taste, but this was ridiculous. I must have dumped a whole tablespoon of salt and several teaspoons of pepper before it was palatable." Two years later, I was curious--would this new soup mix be any better?
The package of mix ($7.95) consisted of layers of powdered butternut squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, and dehydrated apple. Additional ingredients included brown sugar, parboiled rice, toasted onion, and curry. To prepare the soup, I brought four cups of chicken stock and one cup of water to a simmer. I added the mix and simmered everything for 25 minutes. When the apple chunks were tender, I pureed the soup with an immersion blender and stirred in one cup of milk. I appreciated how quickly this soup came together (in under 40 minutes from start to finish). It's definitely the sort of thing I would prepare on a chilly, dark weekday evening.
Unfortunately my praise ends there. Like the pumpkin chowder two years ago, I found this soup to be exceedingly bland. It had a processed, dull vegetable taste, like cheap canned soup, and the curry was muted and completely lacking in heat. Again, I found myself aggressively seasoning the soup with salt and pepper in order to give it flavor. In a blind taste test, I'm not sure if I would be able to identify any of the key ingredients. In the end, I would not recommend this mix. You're far better off taking the time to make soup from scratch. Try this easy recipe for Roasted Butternut Squash Soup.
Lucy Baker is a food writer and the author of The Boozy Baker: 75 Recipes for Spirited Sweets. She is currently at work on a second book about homemade food gifts. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and dachshund.